Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 134

A much anticipated and, from a geopolitical perspective, potentially significant summit meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin is scheduled to kick off in Moscow this Sunday (July 15). As officials from both countries have long made clear, the highlight of Jiang’s three-day Russia visit is to be the July 16 signing of a Russian-Chinese friendship and cooperation treaty. Details of the pact have not been made public. But most Western commentators have joined their Russian counterparts in suggesting that the drafting of the treaty–and the effort to improve bilateral ties it embodies–has been driven in large part by Beijing’s and Moscow’s joint opposition to U.S. missile defense plans. The Chinese leadership is presumably also acting out concerns resulting from the more confrontational posture that the Bush administration has assumed toward China.

The Russian-Chinese summit comes more generally at a critical juncture in international diplomacy, one in which the United States, Russia, the European Union, China and India–to name only the major players–are jockeying for position on the missile defense issue. Against this background, Washington is seeking to squelch European concerns over missile defense and its possible consequences while aiming simultaneously to isolate China by reaching an accommodation on the missile defense issue with both Moscow and New Delhi. Moscow, for its part, has continued to play on these European concerns and hopes thereby to increase pressure on Washington to rethink its missile defense planning so as to hew closer to the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Moscow has sought simultaneously to shore up its “strategic partnership” with India in the face of U.S. blandishments and, as this week’s summit with Jiang bears witness, to make common cause with Beijing on missile defense and related issues.

The Chinese-Russian summit comes only a month after Russia’s president had his first meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, and amid plans by Moscow and Washington to greatly intensify high-level bilateral contacts. Meanwhile, Putin is himself scheduled to hold another summit meeting of his own later this year with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. This concatenation of events, particularly in light of reports this week that the Bush administration will take new steps this summer in violation of the ABM treaty, suggests that the diplomatic maneuvering over missile defense is reaching a critical stage. The extent to which Moscow and Beijing choose over the next several days to tie their fortunes together could be a key factor in determining the shape of the confrontation over missile defense and the ABM Treaty that is to come.

That is in part because Kremlin leaders have seemed to make clear in recent weeks their unwillingness to deal on the missile defense issue independent of Chinese concerns. Putin highlighted that point when he told American reporters only days after the Russian-U.S. summit meeting in Ljubljana that Moscow intended to ensure that China’s strategic interests are taken into account during upcoming talks between Russia and U.S. arms control negotiators. Speaking with reference to China and the Russian-U.S. negotiations, Putin was quoted as saying that “one must be very careful here” and that “the transparency of our actions is very important, lest none of the nuclear powers would feel abandoned or that two countries are making agreements behind their backs” (New York Times, June 19). The reasoning that underlay Moscow’s decision to stick by Beijing was spelled out a few days later by a leading analyst of Russian affairs. According to Anatol Lieven, Russia cannot afford to make a deal with Washington at Beijing’s expense in part because Moscow needs China to counter American global influence. “But even if that were not so,” he writes, “Russia could still not risk angering China on a vital matter, not with a long common border and a huge and growing disproportion in population and non-nuclear military might” (New York Times, June 21).

Despite this background, however, it remains unclear exactly what sort of treaty Russia and China intend to sign early next week. Some sources have suggested that it will be nothing more than a standard friendship treaty, not unlike the one Russia has signed with North Korea. During a visit to Moscow this past spring by Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, however, unnamed Chinese sources were quoted as saying that China and Russia had now come to see themselves as “the main roadblock in the way of Washington’s global policy of spreading its influence.” Chinese sources were also reported to have indicated that Beijing was seeking an “expansion in military cooperation” with Russia” that was “prompted, among other things, by a U.S. decision to supply with a big batch of weapons” (see the Monitor, May 2).

It is unclear how accurate those assessments were, although Russian diplomatic sources were quoted last week as confirming that military issues would be high on the agenda during the upcoming summit. In comments made to the press this week, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said only that the new Russian-Chinese treaty was a document of a “new type,” one which “leaves partners considerable freedom of opinions,” but at the same time presupposes “agreement and coordination of actions.” He also claimed that Russia and China remained “absolutely unified” in their opposition to U.S. missile defense (AFP, July 9; Itar-Tass, July 10).